Did the apostle Paul ever have any children?

Q. Did the apostle Paul ever have any children?

Paul seems to indicate in his first letter to the Corinthians that he has always been single. Addressing the question of whether a believer should marry, he says, “I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” His further comments indicate that what he means here is that he wishes they could all serve God with the advantages of singleness, as he does: “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided.” However, Paul does acknowledge that singleness and marriage are both callings—indeed, “gifts”—to each believer from God, and so “each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them.

So if Paul never married, then he never had children. However, it seems that in his case, the promise of Jesus came true that “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” Even though Paul never married, and this allowed him to be “concerned about the Lord’s affairs” with undivided attention, in the very course of his work for the Lord he met Timothy, who became his close co-worker, and more than that. In his letters to Timothy, Paul addresses him as “my true son in the faith and as “my dear son.” He also calls Titus, another young co-worker, “my true son in our common faith.” So even though Paul never had children of his own, in the Lord he had at least two dear children who joined him and helped him in his mission.

From where did Jesus and his parents flee to Egypt?

Q. From where did Jesus and his parents flee to Egypt? According to Luke, the family went back to Nazareth after Jesus was presented to God in the temple.

Thank you for your question. I discuss it in this earlier post:

Why do Matthew and Luke seem to disagree about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth?

Does God bring judgment on a people after a certain point?

Q. Does God wait for a people to surpass a certain point before He  brings judgement on them? Do we have the means to know what that point is? I ask because in Genesis, when Abram falls in a deep trance, God says that the iniquity of the Amorites hasn’t yet reached its full extent. We learn that the Amorites were later destroyed, during Moses’s time. The timeline seems to fall in place with the conversation God had earlier on with Abram. However, Moses says in Deuteronomy that God made Sihon king of the Amorites stubborn and obstinate. Why wasn’t Sihon given more opportunities perhaps to repent, as the arrogant Pharaoh of Egypt was given before God hardened his heart? In light of all this, how do we take part in God’s story though history, and are some people predestined for destruction regardless of how thing turn out?

Let me start with the later part of your question and work my way back to the beginning of it. While Moses does say that God made Sihon’s heart stubborn, I think we actually should see the way that God treated Sihon as  similar to the way that God treated Pharaoh. First each ruler chose to disregard God’s supreme power and authority, despite warnings, and then God confirmed the ruler in that choice.

We learn from other Old Testament narratives that the peoples living in the area where the Israelites ultimately settled were aware of what God had done to free them from slavery in Egypt. Late in the time of the judges, for example (under Samuel, the last judge), the Philistines were fighting against the Israelites and they learned that the ark of the covenant had been brought onto the battle line. They recognized the ark as an embodiment of the presence of God, and they cried out, “Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues!” The Philistines fought extra hard because of this, and while they won the battle and captured the ark, they were then struck by plagues themselves and had to return the ark in order to be delivered.

Similarly, when Joshua sent spies to explore the land of Canaan, Rahab told them, “All who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan.” So news of God’s earlier victories spread to the surrounding peoples, and this can be considered a warning that they should have heeded. Rahab herself expressed faith in the true God and helped the Israelites, and so she was spared with her family. I think we can conclude that Sihon should have known enough, from what he must have heard about God striking the Egyptians with plagues and drying up the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape Pharaoh’s army, to allow them to pass through his territory, which was their only request. But instead of allowing them to go by peacefully, he attacked them, and in the battle that followed, he and his army were destroyed. We don’t know exactly where his own choices ended and God’s confirmation of those choices began, but in Deuteronomy Moses is describing the latter part of that process.

This may point to at least part of the answer to your original question. If a people and its leaders are no longer considering the warnings that God has given them—particularly, in the case of modern societies, in the biblical record of God’s dealing with humanity in former times—then we should indeed be concerned that they may have passed an ominous point. This is true at least descriptively: If people are no longer heeding God’s warnings, how can they be expected to change course?

But I would hesitate to say this prescriptively, that is, “Once we see a people reach this or that particular stage, we know that they’ve passed the point of no return.” To answer the first part of your question directly, I don’t believe we have the means to know that what point is. So we should always pray and work for God’s standards of justice and compassion to be honored in our societies. Even in a situation where we may think that things have gotten so bad there’s no way we our society can escape divine judgment, we can still respond with repentance, prayer, and advocacy. We can say, as the king of Nineveh did even after Jonah told him that his city was going to be destroyed, “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” In short, I don’t believe that any particular people is predestined for destruction regardless of how thing turn out.

Was Rahab really a prostitute?

Q. Was Rahab really a prostitute?

There’s no question, from the vocabulary and rhetoric of the Bible, that Rahab actually was a prostitute. In the Old Testament narrative about her in the book of Joshua, she’s described with the Hebrew term zonah, which unambiguously means “prostitute.” Rahab is also mentioned in the New Testament books of Hebrews and James, and in each case she’s described with the Greek term pornē, which correspondingly means “prostitute.” James, in fact, actually seems to stress this status when he emphasizes, in support of his argument that “faith without works is dead,” that “even Rahab the prostitute” was considered righteous because sheltered and protected the spies. The book of Hebrews also calls her “Rahab the prostitute” but it notes similarly that she protected the spies “by faith” and so “was not killed with those who were disobedient.”

I think that all of this leads us to an even more important question: Why was Rahab a prostitute? It seems quite likely from the Joshua narrative that she turned to prostitution out of desperate circumstances. Rahab acknowledges to the spies that “the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below,” and so she promises to shelter and protect them. But then she asks them, “Please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them and that you will save us from death.”

Who isn’t mentioned here? There’s no mention of Rahab having a husband or children. It’s quite possible (though this does involve reading between the lines a bit) that Rahab had been married, but that she was then widowed before she had children. Alternatively, she may have been a young woman from a large family that was poor and couldn’t afford a dowry for all of its daughters, nor could it afford to continue supporting them after they became adults. Either way, she would have been without financial support in this culture.

One further indication we have of poverty is the comment that Rahab’s house was “built into the city wall.” One excavation of Jericho found an area where houses had been built into the wall. One website suggests that this was likely a poor section of the city, “since the houses were positioned on the embankment between the upper and lower city walls. Not the best place to live in time of war! This area was no doubt the overflow from the upper city and the poor part of town, perhaps even a slum district.”

So Rahab was most likely a woman who forced into prostitution out of financial desperation. Poverty and human trafficking are almost always responsible for prostitution. The Bible seems to recognize this and not condemn Rahab, but rather praise her for her faith in the true God and her courageous service to him.

Indeed, the Bible ultimately tells a very hopeful story about Rahab, though it needs to be unambiguous about her circumstances in order to do so. According to the gospel of Matthew, Rahab later married an Israelite man and had a son named Boaz, who himself became the husband of Ruth, another foreign woman who married into the covenant community. As Matthew makes clear, Rahab and Ruth both became ancestors of Jesus himself.

So the story of Rahab in the Bible shows us that when God came into our world as a human being, He chose to come into a family line that included a woman who had once been trapped in prostitution, but who was rescued from it and began a new life. I hope this encourages us all to recognize that there is indeed great hope for those who are rescued from human trafficking and prostitution due to desperate circumstances. Perhaps the ultimate response to your question is that we should all support, through prayer, giving, and advocacy, the work of those who are continuing to fight in our world today against human trafficking and prostitution.

A drawing of Rahab protecting the spies, from an 1881 illustrated Bible. (Image courtesy Wikipedia.)

How could Jesus promise Paradise “today” to the thief on the cross if he didn’t go directly there himself?

Q. If Jesus went right after his death to preach the good news to the “spirits in prison,” as 1 Peter describes, how could he tell the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”?

We should indeed consider whether there is a discrepancy in chronology between Luke’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion and what Peter says Jesus did after he died on the cross.

Luke records how Jesus was crucified “along with two criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.” One of them began to mock him, saying, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other one said he should keep quiet. “We’re being punished justly,” he insisted, “we’re getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then this second criminal, often known as the “thief on the cross,” said to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus responded, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

We know that all three men died that same day, because, as John explains in his gospel: “It was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus, they found that he was already dead, so they did not break his legs.”

So the plain meaning of Jesus’ statement to the criminal who defended him was that the two of them would be together in Paradise that same day after their deaths.

Peter, however, writes in his first epistle that “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.” This statement and some similar ones in the Bible have led to the doctrine of the “harrowing of hell,” that is, the idea that after his death, Jesus journeyed to hell, triumphed over it, and released its captives. (I affirm this doctrine in my post on this blog entitled, “What did Jesus do for three days after he descended into hell?“)

We should note, however, that it was actually not three days, as we would reckon that time period ourselves, between when Jesus died on the cross and when he rose from the dead. In the Hebrew idiom, today is the first today, tomorrow is the second day, and the day after tomorrow is the third day. The gospels record that Jesus warned his disciples in advance, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; they will kill him, but on the third day he will be raised to life.” What he meant by that Hebrew expression was that he’d be killed and then after one full intervening day he would rise from the dead.

Sure enough, Jesus died on a Friday afternoon and rose on a Sunday morning. Even though we often speak of him being in the grave for “three days,” he was actually there for less than two days. Now the Bible also describes him leading the souls rescued from hell into heaven during that time. In Ephesians, Paul quotes from Psalm 68 and applies its words to Jesus: “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives.” Paul then asks, “In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the depths of the earth?” So the understanding is that at some point after his death, but before his resurrection, Jesus led these rescued souls into heaven.

If we were going to assign an earthly time to an event that admittedly takes place outside of time, we would have to say that Jesus did this sometime between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning, since he didn’t have these people with him when he reappeared to his disciples. And if we wanted to coordinate this account with the conversation Jesus had with the thief on the cross, we would have to conclude that this thief must have been among the ransomed souls Jesus led into heaven after his crucifixion. If we wanted to be very particular about it, we would insist that this must have happened on Friday, since Jesus promised the thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” (It does feel strange, however, to try to assign earthly times to events in heaven and hell.)

This may be the most we can say in response to this question. But let me  leave you with one last thought. Jesus seems to have led both the criminal who defended him on the cross and large numbers of people who perished “in the days of Noah” up into heaven after his own death. He would no doubt have stayed there with them long enough to ensure their acceptance and welcome. (In that sense, the thief was indeed “with him in Paradise.”) But Jesus then returned to earth for forty days so that he could teach and instruct his disciples, to prepare them for their work of spreading the good news about him all around the world. This question about the thief on the cross, in other words, reveals that Jesus left heaven and came to earth for us not once but twice, first in his incarnation as a baby, and then again after his crucifixion in a resurrected body. We can only imagine that after dying on the cross, where he suffered so greatly, Jesus was ready to leave this world and never see it again. But instead, he returned to the very scene of his suffering, for the sake of those he had died for. As the old hymn says, “Hallelujah! What a Savior.”

Where did Jesus go in his body after he was resurrected?

Q. If Jesus was resurrected, then where did he later go with flesh and blood?

I understand this question the way I’ve indicated in the title of this post: Where did Jesus go in his body after he was resurrected? According to Luke at the beginning of the book of Acts, “After his suffering [that is, his death], Jesus presented himself to the apostles he had chosen and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” So Jesus didn’t go very far at first; he stayed in Jerusalem and appeared to his followers, teaching and instructing them for forty days. It’s not too hard for us to imagine him doing this in a resurrected body, though his sudden appearances and disappearances, which the Bible also describes, certainly are unusual.

After that, however, as Luke then records, “He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” Two angels appeared to the apostles and explained to them that Jesus had been taken up “into heaven.” Now we might wonder a bit more—can someone who is “flesh and blood” really go right into heaven?

At this point we need to bring in the discussion of the resurrection that Paul offers in 1 Corinthians. There he explains, in answer to a question very similar to yours, “Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

It’s hard to understand exactly what a “spiritual body” is; we think of bodies as physical and material, not  spiritual. But whatever it is, a person’s resurrected spiritual body is different in significant ways, as Paul explains, from the physical body they have when die. Nevertheless, even though it is characterized by glory, power, and imperishability, the spiritual body is still a body. A resurrected person is not a disembodied spirit.

So, to offer a simple answer to your question, after Jesus was resurrected, he first went around Jerusalem teaching and encouraging his disciples, and then he went up into heaven. To answer what might be the question behind your question, he was able to do this because his resurrected body was not exactly flesh and blood. It was a “spiritual body” that was different enough that he could enter heaven in it.

A 15th-century Russian icon of the ascension of Jesus.

Did a man in ancient Israel have to marry his brother’s widow if he were already married?

Q. You state in one of your posts that Levirate marriage applied to brothers who were married (as well as those who were single). Do you have an example or statement of that fact in the Bible? If not, where does this idea come from, as I am not able to confirm it one way or the other?

A good example can be found in the book of Ruth. Boaz is willing to marry Ruth so that she can have a son who will carry on the name of her late husband, a son who can also care for Naomi, who would be his grandmother, in her old age. But Boaz knows that there is someone more closely related to Naomi who needs to be asked about this first. He approaches this man at the town gate, and he replies that he can’t marry Ruth “or I will ruin my own inheritance.” What does that mean? One translation puts it this way, which I think is quite accurate: “I might harm what I can pass on to my own sons.”

In other words, this man must already be married with a family. But he can’t afford to have additional children in a Levirate second marriage because he doesn’t have enough land and other resources to pass on to Ruth’s children in addition to the ones he already has. On this basis he is released from the obligation and Boaz, who seems to have sufficient means, marries Ruth and helps her start a new family.

We can see a direct connection to Levirate marriage here by the way the other relative removes his sandal and gives it to Boaz. While the book of Ruth explains that this was “the method of legalizing transactions in Israel,” there’s some further background. The book of Deuteronomy also connects sandal removal with a man declining or refusing to marry his brother’s widow. It says: “If a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.’ Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, ‘I do not want to marry her,’ his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, ‘This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.’ That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.

However, in the case of Ruth, it’s recognized that the other relative is a man of good will but limited means. So Ruth doesn’t remove his sandal (or spit in his face!). Rather, he removes it himself, and it is graciously accepted.

If men who were already married were not expected to fulfill the duties of Levirate marriage, Boaz would never have brought this man up or dealt with him in the first place.